When marathons are held in city's theaters
In Shanghai's peak season for the performing arts, "marathon performances" have become all the talk among theatergoers.
Performances with unusual lengths have covered drama, opera and musical concerts. The shows usually feature doubled price and length compared with other performances.
But how are they received by the audience?
"I have finished my half marathon!" theater fan Yao Yebin said, stretching her limbs when she walked out of Shanghai Culture Square at 11:30pm on Friday evening.
She had just watched the first half of "And Quiet Flows the Don," a play based on Russian author Mikhail Sholokhov's four-volume novel presented by St Petersburg's Masterskaya Theater.
The play, like the novel it is drawn from, is an epic not only in dramatic sweep but also in length – each complete performance lasts eight hours.
The first half started at 7pm and lasted for 4.5 hours including a 20-minute interval. Yao would return to the Culture Square at 2pm on Saturday for the 3.5-hour second half which also includes a 20-minute interval.
The play, depicting the life of the Cossacks during World War I, the Russian Revolution and the Russian civil war, previously was staged in Shanghai in 2019.
Russian director Grigory Kozlov initially intended to make it into a 24-hour play before he decided to render it more "audience-friendly."
Two performances were scheduled in Shanghai for this round, with the second scheduled on Sunday from 1:30pm to 11pm, during which audiences were given two 20-minute intervals and a 1.5-hour break from 6pm to 7:30pm for dinner.
"I missed the play four years ago, so I'm making up for it this time," Yao told Shanghai Daily. "I haven't read the original novel, which seems to be too long for me. And this play is like an 'immersive literary experience,' as the theater environment has blocked other abstractions for the audience.
"Together with others, I just allowed myself to be carried away by the story and the characters. However, I can't promise to be 100 percent focused all the time. It's more like a long escape from real life."
Meanwhile, a "marathon concert" was going on at Shanghai Oriental Art Center on Friday evening. Russian pianist Denis Matsuev performed Sergei Vassilievitch Rachmaninoff's complete piano concertos in five hours.
Matsuev was joined by the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Alexander Sladkovsky and Christopher Chen. Each conductor took care of half of the concert.
The first half started at 7pm, including programs of Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in F sharp minor," "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" and "Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor." The second half started at 10pm, featuring "Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor" and "Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor."
A one-hour break was arranged during which audiences could either leave for some snacks or stay in the concert hall for a brief introduction of Rachmaninoff's life and musical career by music scholar Bi Yi.
The length of the concert was a challenge to both the audience and the musicians.
Adequate sleep and quality food beforehand were essential.
Matsuev has performed "marathon concerts" in Russia, Japan, and China's Hong Kong before, and has cooperated with his compatriot conductor Valery Gergiev in one of them.
Coincidentally, Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theater just performed the complete version of Wagner's epic opera "Der Ring Des Nibelungen" at Shanghai Grand Theater two weeks ago. The 16-hour opera was played in four chapters over four days, providing another marathon experience for Shanghai audiences.
"I don't mean to break any record or make any history by performing such long concerts," said Matsuev. "It's simply because of my deep affection for Rachmaninoff's music.
"The concert hall is a magical place, and music is a therapy for me. Long-hour performance is demanding and consuming, but the energy I receive from the audience can fill me up with power again."
In the classical music circle, it's widely agreed that the acceptability of series concerts or concerts featuring complete works by one composer can be considered a benchmark to test the maturity of the market.
Mature audiences would pick series concerts as they have built up the conscience to understand and appreciate composers and their works in a more systematic and rational way.
According to the Art Center, tickets for Matsuev's Shanghai concert were sold out within 24 hours of release.
Audience member Huang Yue made an effort to mark out the date on the calendar and bought himself a ticket. Working in film industry, Huang is a frequent theatergoer, though most of his long-hour performance experiences were collected during his overseas study life.
"Living a life filled with digital contents, an indulgence in a live concert is luxurious and necessary," Huang told Shanghai Daily. "Despite the length, we don't need subtitles in a musical concert, which made the 'marathon' easier."
Huang paid nearly 900 yuan (US$ 123) for the ticket, double the amount he usually pays for a single concert.
"But this is a very long concert, and the atmosphere was great. So it's worth it," he said.
Huang has watched long-hour dramas in the US and France in his student days, and of course, lengthy films too.
"Content is still the priority rather than length when I'm choosing programs," said Huang. "But long-hour theater or cinema experience can be unexpectedly interesting."
Huang recalled that he has watched an 800-minute Argentine film "La Flor" in New York many years ago.
"The film was showed in six afternoons in a row – about two hours per day for a week," he said. "So there were some student and elderly people in the audience. After the first few days, you started to make friends with those sitting in the neighboring seats."
Other long-hour performances that have appeared on Shanghai stages more than once include Stan Lai's seven-hour play "A Dream Like A Dream," and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center's six-hour play "The Dream of Red Chamber."
It seems that attending a lengthy performance has become a new trendy activity for the city's theatergoers. But for stage production creators and producers, it can be tricky.
"Firstly, the increase of length directly leads to the increase of cost," drama actor and director Zhang Kai told Shanghai Daily. "The venues and performers charge by time, and there will be a lot of uncertainties in long performances."
Zhang said that given the mature storytelling skills in modern theater, most stage productions can be made into a "reasonable length."
"For me, only epic works like 'Der Ring Des Nibelungen' must be presented in long-hour performances given its super rich content," said Zhang. "For a lot of other works, long length is not a necessity, though the tag of 'marathon performance' can sometimes help the promotion and selling of a stage production.
"There is no right or wrong. Long-hour performances can always remain a choice for audience. Personally, I prefer lengthy performances that are separated into two or three days of time rather than in one day, which is more friendly to my back and stomach."